The Smartest Computer Was On Star Trek

There have been a lot of smart computers on TV and movies. We often think among the smartest, though, are the ones on Star Trek. Not the big “library computer” and not the little silver portable computers. No, the smart computers on Star Trek ran the doors. If you ever watch, the doors seem to know the difference between someone walking towards it, versus someone flying towards it in the middle of a fist fight. It also seems to know when more people are en route to the door.

Granted, the reason they are so smart is that the doors really have a human operating them. For the real fan, though, you can buy a little gadget that looks like an intercom panel from the Enterprise. That would be cool enough, but this one has sound effects and can sense when someone walks into your doorway so they can hear the comforting woosh of a turbolift door.

Of course, for the real hacker, that’s not good enough either. [Evan] started with this $25 gadget, but wanted to control it with an Arduino for inclusion in his hackerspace’s pneumatic door system. He did a bit of reverse engineering, a bit of coding, and he wound up in complete control of the device.

The internals of the device were mostly straightforward with some PIR sensors, switches, LEDs, and some epoxy blobs that produce the sound and control the logic. [Evan] had to be a little creative since the red alert sound, once started, would not stop for some time. The solution? Let the Arduino cut power to the board when it wants silence.

The code is available on GitHub. There were a few other tricks required, including removing a PIR sensor chip and adding a USB to serial adapter. Once you can treat the whole thing as an I/O device, you could probably do a lot of interesting projects easily. And of course, this sort of offering would be perfect as an entry in the Hackaday Sci-Fi contest.

For some reason, we don’t see as many original series hacks as we do for the Next Generation. We have, though, seen at least one other swoosh door. On the other hand, if you fly against that door while being thrown by a Captain Kirk style body slam the door will still open. We can’t vouch for it, but this video has an interesting analysis of the door noise that reminded us of a modern version of playing our old LPs backward.

31 thoughts on “The Smartest Computer Was On Star Trek

    1. Was there ever an episode where the ship’s computer went wrong (ok, there were a few of those) and it affected the doors? I think there was at least one. Could be I’ve seen so much Star Trek though that my memory can make up new scenes as soon as I try to remember them.

  1. The smartest elevators and their doors must be in “hitchhikers guide to the universe” they were multi dimensional so they could see into the future and knew in advance when people intended to use them and thus became depressed like Marvin and committed suicide.

  2. “If you ever watch, the doors seem to know the difference between someone walking towards it,
    versus someone flying towards it in the middle of a fist fight. It also seems to know when more
    people are en route to the door.”

    I can’t recall if there was ever a fight where someone took advantage of the door opening to throw someone through it…

    1. Flint, the master hacker, has seen all the way through and out the other side of this problem, and uses curtains printed to look like doors and makes the swoosh noise himself….

      Unfortunately can’t find the right clip, but here’s another part of the movie, to date, Hollywood’s only 110% accurate depiction of a hacker at work…

  3. Not sure as to the purpose behind the video?
    However…
    From an engineering standpoint, you would think that weight, cost, reliability and complexity (or lack thereof) would be key factors in designing a multi-billion dollar starship that is supposed to be on its own for years at a time. Why have automatic doors then? The sensors, the mechanics, etc would likely end up being a maintenance issue and add unneeded weight. How about all the times the crew got stuck somewhere because the doors stopped working? And why do the doors stick in the closed position trapping the crew in rooms? You would think when they designed the ship that the doors would be stuck in the open position in the event of a power failure – talk about placing the crew at risk! In fact – why have most of the doors at all? Do you really need a door to the sickbay, or cafeteria, or transporter room? Why not just have an opening. The only place automatic doors make any sense is on the turbolift. EVERYWHERE else the doors should be simple, lightweight manual doors or not there at all.
    They do make for good plot devices – I guess that is most important on a TV starship :)

        1. But there is a breach almost every week! Tune in next Tuesday…
          Too many space aliens keep beaming onto the ship, and the warp core and fusion reactor(s) malfunction embarrassingly frequently. Occasionally there is a breach of biological protocol, and sometimes an android gets a little virus and attempts to commandeer the ship. We have to take measures for security reasons.
          And also privacy reasons, captain’s orders.

    1. The argument that the doors would require a lot of development, cost, and weight assumes the technology didn’t already exist at the time the shop was built and also assumes a lot about the materials used. To many assumptions considering this takes place on the 23rd century.

    2. You’re questioning why they have doors, not why they waste enormous amounts of structure and volume on hallways? And having superfluous hallways, they put critical systems inside crawl ways inside the walls, instead of just accessing them from said hallways? Of course the answer is they give people places to walk and hold conversations and get trapped in dramatic circumstances, as well as being cheap to build and film, even more important on a TV starship.

      1. The systems are inside panels in the walls, and should be completely accessible through the large hallways that become your work area. It’s like being in a large maintenance tunnel that has covers over equipment to keep people’s hands off.

      2. Problem is that in a spaceship you might suddenly have to deal with a lack of gravity, and then a crawlspace is handier than a hallway. Not to mention that if something vents something nasty it’s easier to contain and doesn’t flood the whole ship killing all.

        I hope that satisfies your need for logic.

        As for spacious hallways, you want to be able to quickly move large groups of people out of sections while having enough air there to keep them conscious and not overheat.

    3. In the future they probably aren’t mechanical, rather they are using some futuristic tech to control the doors and thus our reliability and energy consumption estimates could never be accurate. Remember that they have carts that haul freight around the ship that use anti-gravity pads rather than wheels… so that tech must be pretty efficient. The doors stay in the closed position because the main two reasons a star ship would lose power would be in the event of catastrophic damage or an invasion of the ship. In either case having the doors closed is a good idea because either you want to keep the bad guys out or oxygen in. Any registered star fleet officer can use one of those little portable manual door opening things, so they aren’t locked in anyway. As to why automatic doors make sense…. I guess you’ve never been to a department store or grocery store? In an area with a lot of traffic and the possibility that people will have their hands full, automatic doors just make sense. In private quarters they also make sense as the computer can recognize the resident and open the door for them automatically but not for others. It saves the Enterprise D from having a “locksmith” to handle the thousands of crew members, and their families and all the “keys” they would need.

      1. Btw this also explains why those uniforms don’t have pockets…. you don’t have to lug around keys or your phone and money doesn’t exist. Yay STTNG! They truly thought of everything.

  4. “the reason they are so smart is that the doors really have a human operating them”
    Tell that to Harrison Ford.

    As for detecting in Star-Trek, at least in the later versions like TNG all the personnel had a communicator attached to them. I suppose that helps.

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